FOLLY—LOST, WAY OUT WEST
Story Behind the Painting
[Extract: Trekking with the T-Team: Central Australian Safari 1981]
Our guide had left. The T-Team was on their own to navigate far-west MacDonnell Ranges—boldly going where few people, of that time, had gone before…
Dad charged the Rover along the track. I sat in front and checked Richard’s compass.
‘Are we going south-east?’ I handed the compass to my brother.
He glanced at it and replied, ‘Yes, more or less.’
I studied the map. ‘Are you sure we’re going the right way, Dad?’
‘Of course, we are,’ Dad snapped.
‘But we should—’
‘What do you know about reading maps?’ Dad gripped the steering-wheel. ‘I know what I’m doing.’
I watched the scenery widen into a clearing ringed by desert oaks. ‘Is this Talipata Springs?’
Dad’s face flushed crimson. ‘Just a little detour.’
My father followed the path circling the camp—a couple of weathered humpies, campfire mounds and broken soft drink bottles stranded in the sands of time and neglect. Dad then picked the track heading east.
‘Are you sure, Dad?’ I examined the map. ‘East’ll get us nowhere.
‘Don’t you question me.’ Dad forced the Rover to bump along at forty-kilometres per hour. ‘I know where I’m going.’
Hurt, I looked out the window. Gullies and ridges of the range south of Mt. Liebig passed by. The valley narrowed.
‘This is not the way to Talipata,’ I said.
‘I’m sure it is,’ Dad snapped, halting when the track fizzled out. ‘Okay, everybody, let’s scout around for a gully with a trough and a spring.’
Richard and I aimed for a gully south-east of the Rover. When we almost reached it, we heard Dad yelling behind us. ‘Where’re you going? It’s no use going there—blah, blah, blah.’
We altered our course and hiked east over a ridge towards a neighbouring gully. At the crest, Richard and I had a break and a drink from our canteens. We looked down the slope from where we’d come. Our two cousins, sat at the entrance to the forbidden gully.
‘What are they doing there?’ I asked.
‘Beats me.’ Richard shrugged the pack onto his back and then rose. ‘Let’s get going.’
‘Don’t see much point.’ I peered into the gap with dry grass and granite. ‘It’s not the right place at all.’
‘You don’t need to remind me.’ Richard stared at the faraway figures of our kin. ‘How far up the gorge are we meant to go to find the cattle trough?’
‘Not this far.’
Richard squinted and pointed. ‘Hey, what’s Dad doing?’
I focussed on the little man in green marching up the gorge. ‘He’s walking up that gully he told us not to enter.’
‘He’s got rocks in his head.’
‘Yep.’ I paced up to a spindly pine tree, and then sat on top of my bag. ‘Might as well wait like our cousins. Just in case.’
Richard found a boulder, then sat picking out the spinifex needles from his hands. He took for an eternity to tweeze them out with his thick fingers of short nails. When no Dad appeared, we moved up to the next ridge. We scanned the hills dotted with spinifex tussocks, rocks striped yellow ochre and orange, and the occasional ghost gum. Still no Dad.
Richard muttered, ‘This is useless. All useless!’
‘Yeah, like I said before. Why’re we waiting?’
‘Because we have to?’
‘But we don’t!’
We sat in a trance of indecision, surveying the deepening purples on Liebig’s cliffs and ridges to the north.
Then I moved my lips. ‘You know, I don’t think Dad’s going to come.’
‘Nup. If we wait any longer, we’ll turn to stone.’ Richard stood. ‘We better head back to the Rover.’
The Rover stood abandoned in the small clearing. For some minutes, we milled around the comforting presence of the vehicle, then reclined under some shady bush.
Dad arrived huffing and puffing. ‘Where were you?’
‘Up that ridge.’ Richard pointed east of the gully. ‘Where did you go?’
‘We went looking for you,’ Dad said, ‘I thought you still went up that gully even though I told you not to.’
Our cousins staggered in from the scrub.
Dad waved his hands around. ‘And then your cousins went to the trouble of going up the gully to find you.’
I clicked my tongue.
‘Now we’re running behind schedule.’ Dad paced around the Rover. ‘If we can’t get to Talipata, we’ll have to ration the water.’
‘What folly! Been led up the creek,’ I mumbled as I cut a path through the flies and walked away.
Dad snatched up the map from the front seat, and then spread it out on the Rover’s bonnet. ‘Where are we?’
‘Not in the right gorge,’ Richard muttered as he peered over Dad’s shoulder.
‘Oh, no! No! No!’ Dad ironed out the map’s wrinkles with his hands. ‘I’m sure this is the right gorge.’
‘Hmm!’ Richard squinted and scrutinised the map. ‘I’m sure that’s Talipata further north.’
‘We’ll see.’ Dad stepped back. ‘I think I’ll try that gully to the east just to get an idea where we are.’
Richard sighed. ‘Okay.’
In Dad’s absence, Richard and I climbed a nearby hill to pick out the landmarks and match them to the map.
We surveyed the terrain. ‘Nup, not the one.’
‘Nup, definitely not.’ I pointed at the map. ‘We’ve got to go through Berry Pass.’
We tramped back to the Rover. No Dad, just the lounging cousins and an atmosphere thick with flies. Time dragged as we waited.
Dad stomped back to the Rover, he opened the door inviting a hundred flies in for a party, and then stuck his head through the door. ‘Ah, well, looks like it is the wrong gorge.’
(More of Trekking with the T-Team 1981 coming soon.)
© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2016
Painting: Storm over Mt. Leibig (acrylic on canvas) © Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2010